Source: @rhr01 via Twitter
The Toronto Arrows are just three weeks away from opening the 2020 Major League Rugby season. They will kick off their campaign with a Week 1 matchup against the newly renamed Austin Herd on February 8th, 2020.
In the build up to their season opening match with Austin, the Arrows will take part in a mini-camp in Las Vegas culminating in a match with the Utah Warriors. The team will then head to Buffalo to take on Rugby United New York in a controlled scrimmage. The next few weeks and the two pre-season contests will give GM Mark Winokur and Director of Rugby Chris Silverthorn plenty to evaluate prior to naming the Starting XV to open up the 2020 season.
Winokur and Silverthorn have quite the task ahead of them. The Arrows made a handful of excellent signings to address areas of need and add depth to the lineup. As a result, the Arrows enter 2020 as one of Major League Rugby’s deepest squads. Ultimately, this has created some intriguing battles at many positions. As we get closer to week 1, I decided to take a shot at projecting the Starting XV for the 2020 season.
The Arrows did not lose a lot of players from last season. However, their biggest loss was tighthead prop Morgan Mitchell. Mitchell was a force in the scrum and an incredibly powerful ball carrier. His style of play (especially the bowling ball running) made him quite popular with the fans. However, he opted to sign a more lucrative contract in Japan. After Mitchell’s departure, the Arrows have brought in new props Richie Asiata and Tyler Rowland.
Asiata comes over from Queensland Country in Australia. He is capable of playing across the front row but primarily is a loosehead. Asiata brings a solid scrummaging technique and a nasty sidestep (yes, a prop with a sidestep) to the Arrows. Rowland had a successful U20 Trophy tournament and a has impressed with Pacific Pride which has caught the Arrows’ eye.
However, the new additions will likely come off the bench to start the year. Rob Brouwer was one of the best loosehead props in MLR last season.
I personally still think he should have been on Canada’s RWC squad. Brouwer was a key cog in the Arrows dominant scrum last year and is a terrific defender. His play earned him 1st team All MLR honours. Asiata will provide Brouwer with plenty of competition for the 1 jersey. However, after the season Brouwer had, he deserves to retain the starting job going into week 1.
Cole Keith started at tighthead prop in the season opener against NOLA last year. However, after leaving for the ARC, Mitchell began an outstanding run and Keith was never quite able to surpass him. Fast forward a year; Mitchell is gone and Keith has an entire RWC campaign worth of experience to develop as a player. Keith played well last year and made quite an impact off the bench. Now he has a chance to take the reigns as the go-to tighthead.
Andrew Quattrin was one of many bright spots of the Arrow’s season last year. He was an uncapped player who was able to use MLR to raise his level of play and profile. Quattrin’s great year ended with him earning his first Canada cap and then heading to the RWC. Steven Ng was a perfect 2nd half replacement for Quattrin. The dynamic has not really changed going into 2020. Quattrin will start and Ng will be in the reserves.
Starting XV Front Row: 1. Rob Brouwer, 2 Andrew Quattrin, 3 Cole Keith
The second row depth chart remains unchanged from last year. The starting locks will be Mike Sheppard and Paul Ciulini. Sheppard and Ciulini were the mainstays in the engine room throughout 2019.
Mike Sheppard was simply dominant last season. Week in and week out Sheppard proved that he was the best lock in MLR last year. He played with plenty of intensity and his work rate on defence was unmatched. Sheppard’s defensive ability is outstanding and he is able to have strong caries with ball in hand.
Ciulini provided a similar service and was incredibly steady all season. The Arrows’ engine room was one of the best in all of MLR and with both guys returning, why alter it? Brothers Tom and Josh Van Horne will once again be the next men up in the event of Sheppard or Ciulini is injured or otherwise not playing.
Starting XV Second Row: 4 Mike Sheppard, 5 Paul Ciulini
Vice-Captain Lucas Rumball returns to the Arrows after being Canada’s best player throughout the RWC campaign (yes, I’m including Tyler Ardron in that statement). Rumball’s 2019 MLR campaign was cut short due to a knee injury. However, his international play has proven that he is more than capable of being one of the best flankers in MLR.
His defence is great and he has an uncanny ability to get over the ball at breakdown to create turnovers or penalties. He is also a powerful runner and has shown that you need to send multiple defenders to bring him down. Joining Rumball will be two new additions to the Arrows’ squad.
The Arrows may not have signed a player as high profile as Tendai Mtawarira or Ma’a Nonu, however Tomas de la Vega and Manuel Diana are poised to make a big impact in the back row. De la Vega is a fully capped Puma. Not only an outstanding flanker, de la Vega is a great option in the lineout as well.
Diana starred in Uruguay’s famous RWC victory over Fiji. Diana ended his RWC with 2 tries in 3 games and an 81% tackle completion rate. The additions of de la Vega and Diana help make an already formidable pack even stronger. Peter Milazzo, who was among the league leaders in lineout steals and played near every minute of the season, will be able to push these guys and be competitive for a starting job.
Marcello Wainwright and Kolby Francis have also proven that they more than capable of starting games at the MLR level. Ultimately, the back row is one of the Arrows deepest positions heading into 2020 and they have plenty of options.
Starting XV back row: 6 Tomas de la Vega, 7 Lucas Rumball, 8 Manuel Diana
There have been no changes to the Arrows scrumhalf position from last year. Riley Di Nardo, Andrew Ferguson and Jamie Mackenzie all return for the 2020 season. As such, I expect the depth chart to remain the same at this position.
Despite Jamie Mackenzie getting the call to Canada’s RWC squad, I expect the starting scrumhalf to be Andrew Ferguson. Ferguson was a consistent performer throughout the 2019 season. His ball distribution is excellent and he was able to facilitate a potent Arrows offense. Ferguson also has a knack for knowing the right time to back himself (especially near the try line).
The Arrows had a scrimmage with Canada in the build up to the match against Leinster and Ferguson looked to be one of the better scrumhalves on the pitch. Mackenzie is more than a formidable backup and Di Nardo will be ready to go in the event of injury.
Sam Malcolm was an elite flyhalf in MLR last season. Malcolm ended the year 3rd in league scoring and earned 2nd All MLR Team honours. The man described as having the heart of a lion was an absolute force last year. His boot was nearly flawless, but perhaps more importantly he was one of the best defensive flyhalves in MLR.
When Malcolm went down briefly with an injury against Houston, Shawn Windsor stepped up and played flyhalf. Windsor factored into the first half of the Arrows season quite a bit, but primarily as a fullback after beating out Jack Evans for the 15 jersey.
However, other than Malcolm he was the only other Arrow that played flyhalf until Patrick Parfrey arrived. Even so, Windsor and Parfrey looked to be better suited at fullback in MLR. GM Mark Winokur has decided to address the depth issue in the 10 jersey and acquired 2 more flyhalves in the offseason.
Tayler Adams and Will Kelly have joined the squad (or officially joined in Kelly’s case) and add immediate depth to the 10 jersey. Additionally, Malcolm played flyhalf for the Manawatu Turbos in the Mitre 10 Cup which gives Winokur and Silverthorn even more options to ponder.
Adams is a former junior All Black, has 2 games of Super Rugby experience (with the Melbourne Rebels), and has won the Shute Shield Player of the Year Award. Adams may not have the defensive prowess of Malcolm, but he makes up for it with a dynamic offensive style of play. Adams’ offensive ability looks to be making him the front runner for the 10 jersey at the moment.
Although, Kelly will be close behind and the mid-season arrival of Parfrey could make the competition for the 10 jersey interesting.
Starting XV halfbacks: 9 Andrew Ferguson, 10 Tayler Adams
Guiseppe du Toit, Spencer Jones, Mitch Richardson, and Captain Dan Moor all return for the 2020 season. The Arrows also made a nice depth signing by bringing in Canada RWC starting centre Ben LeSage on his first pro contract. Again, utility back Patrick Parfrey will be returning mid-season and he helps make centre one of the Arrows’ deeper positions.
Du Toit had an incredibly strong campaign last season. He demonstrated a great ability to read defenses and was a voice on key play calls for the Arrows. He earned a chance to represent Canada as injury cover at the RWC to round out his year. When Malcolm was absent last season, it was du Toit that took over the kicking duties. Ultimately, he seems like a lock to start in the 12 jersey again.
It gets really interesting when you look at who the outside centre will be. LeSage, Moor, Jones, and Richardson are all viable options. At the risk of spoiling the next section of this article, Moor looks to be better utilized as a winger, so we will take him out of the picture briefly (obviously, he can still play centre). If Moor goes to the wing, that leaves LeSage, Jones, and Richardson left to vie for the 13 jersey.
It should be quite the battle. Richardson made a handful of appearances last year. By all accounts, he has had a great off-season and looks poised to have a bigger impact on the club. An injury or a suspension could be a big opportunity for Richardson to solidify himself in the lineup. However, on opening day I think it is between Jones and LeSage.
Jones formed a great pair with du Toit last season. The two centres frequently found holes in opposition defense and Jones did well defending one of the hardest channels on the pitch. However, I think it could be LeSage that gets the start.
LeSage will be coming off of an RWC campaign that saw him trusted in the role of a starter as an amateur. He could use this MLR campaign to really solidify himself in that role with the national team. To be honest, I think this position could go to either LeSage or Jones. Ultimately, this means that if LeSage has a bad game, he could have a difficult time getting back in the 13 jersey.
Centre is one of the Arrows’ deepest positions and I think you’d be justified in selecting any one of the 5 options for the match with Austin.
Starting XV Centres: 12 Guiseppe du Toit, 13 Ben LeSage
Wings & Fullback
The Arrows lost Avery Oitomen to Cardiff and opted to not resign Kainoa Lloyd. This leaves them with Dan Moor, Leandro Leivas, Gaston Mieres, and Johnny Sheridan as their options for the wing. Moor turned in an outstanding MLR campaign where he led the Arrows in try scoring. He earned a 2nd All MLR team appearance and ultimately, left many people questioning why he was left off Canada’s RWC roster.
Leivas and Mieres both made massive impacts after joining the club following the ARC. The Uruguayan pair were an absolute force for the Arrows down the stretch during the playoff push. They followed up their strong MLR campaigns with one of Uruguay’s most successful RWC. Unfortunately for Sheridan, the quality of players that Moor, Leivas, and Mieres are will make it very difficult for him to get much game time.
However, between Moor, Leivas, and Mieres the Arrows have three outstanding options on the wing. Of course, Mieres can also play fullback, as he did on many occasions for the Arrows last year, and with the addition of Tayler Adams to the squad, the door has been opened for Sam Malcolm to play fullback.
Malcolm is an incredibly strong on the defensive side of the ball and a fantastic kicker. His defensive style of play should make a great compliment for Adams’ more offensive approach to the game. With the league’s 3rd highest scorer shifting to fullback it looks like Mieres will slide on over and join captain Moor on the wing. Leivas is without a doubt capable of starting in MLR.
However, the Arrows depth makes every spot insanely competitive. Not many MLR teams will have fully capped players coming off the bench, but the Arrows have that luxury.
Starting XV Wings & Fullback: 11 Dan Moor, 14 Gaston Mieres, 15 Sam Malcolm
For the forwards part of the bench there is still plenty of tough calls to make. The 16, 17, 18 jerseys will go to Steven Ng, Richie Asiata, and Tyler Rowland respectively. In the event that Asiata shifts to tighthead, Pat Lynott would wear the 17 jersey.
For the 19 and 20 jersey’s it is a little more difficult. There are plenty of talented players still left to chose from including Peter Milazzo, Marcello Wainwright, Kolby Francis, Tom Van Horne, and Josh Van Horne. Unfortunately, that is five names with only two spots left. I’m going to go with Milazzo for his ability in the lineout and Francis as he can play both lock and 8-man. However, Tom Van Horne and Wainwright should be cycled in. It could be quite the battle for game time.
Jaime Mackenzie will be Andrew Ferguson’s backup at scrumhalf, but beyond that the backs portion of the bench has plenty of tough calls. The Arrows have many versatile backs that can play multiple positions like Gaston Mieres, Dan Moor, Sam Malcolm, Shawn Windsor, and later on Patrick Parfrey.
Ultimately this gives the Arrows plenty of options on the bench as you can always shift guys around the ground as needed. For that reason, I’m selecting the two best backs that I left off the Starting XV; Spencer Jones and Leandro Leivas. Jones and Leivas would allow for other players to shift around if the situation called for it, but also just provide a massive impact off the bench.
The player I feel is unluckiest in the backs is Will Kelly. Kelly has joined the Arrows from the Pacific Pride program and will definitely see some playing time this season. However, Adams and Malcolm’s presence may make it difficult to be in the lineup right away.
Starting XV Bench: 16 Steven Ng 17 Richie Asiata 18 Tyler Rowland 19 Peter Milazzo 20 Kolby Francis 21 Jamie Mackenzie 22 Spencer Jones 23 Leandro Leivas
Mark Winokur and Chris Silverthorn have plenty of difficult decisions to make. The improved depth of the squad has created some insane competition for positions. It will be fun to see how it all plays out at training camp and who steps on the pitch against Austin in week 1.
So, what do you think of my lineup? Agree with my selections? Think I have no clue what I’m talking about? Feel free to let me know by sending me a comment @BressetteTheJet on your favourite social media platform and don’t forget to follow for all your Toronto Arrows news throughout the 2020 season. Once again, my lineup in its entirety:
1 Rob Brouwer, 2 Andrew Quattrin, 3 Cole Keith, 4 Mike Sheppard, 5 Paul Ciulini, 6 Tomas de la Vega, 7 Lucas Rumball, 8 Manuel Diana, 9 Andrew Ferguson, 10 Tayler Adams, 11 Dan Moor, 12 Guiseppe du Toit, 13 Ben LeSage, 14 Gaston Mieres, 15 Sam Malcolm
16 Steven Ng, 17 Richie Asiata, 18 Tyler Rowland, 19 Peter Milazzo, 20 Kolby Francis, 21 Jamie Mackenzie, 22 Spencer Jones, 23 Leandro Leivas